Tag Archives: philosophy

Writer’s Block: Building Your Sandcastle

Have you heard the thing about writing a first draft; it’s like piling sand into the bucket, and the second draft is then building the castle?

My writer’s block at the moment feels like the sand is that really hot, dry sand you get sometimes at the beach; the sand that slips and slides and just falls through your fingers when you pick it up.

So I can grasp a handful, but it just trickles through my fingers: and even if I did manage to get it into the bucket, I’d tip it out into my castle and it would just melt away again.

I’ve got the ideas; but I can’t put them together into anything. I can’t flesh out the bones: every word is a grain of sand picked up and put in the bucket, and then taken out again.

Here’s hoping the tide comes in, and then there’s some damp sand again!

Image via Pexels.

Strong Princesses, Agency, and Show vs Tell

I got seriously grumpy on Twitter last week, and deleted a rant about Strong Women and Agency and writing female characters. So, I’m going to try to make more sense* here.


I was reading a nominal Strong-Princess novel. Ok, great. In the first few pages they were learning to fight, and the protagonist was wondering who she’d get married off to.


But they weren’t involved in politics…  despite wanting to get involved. One princess threw a tantrum when she learned that a brother (or possibly brother-in-law) hadn’t told her that he knew about a political event.


And all the rest of the supporting cast – aka. the political players – were men.

Men ruled. Men made the decisions. Men were the envoys, ambassadors, decision-makers. Even when a Princess was RIGHT THERE, her husband did the talking for her.

But these are Strong Independent Women! We know they are because we said so!

Fuck. That. Noise.

It feels like Strong Independent Woman is now its own set of cliches, and that’s almost as frustrating. I don’t need these princesses to go off on an Adventure to prove that they’re Independent. I don’t need them to learn to fight to prove that they’re Strong. I don’t need to be told that they Definitely Are Protagonists!

What I need is for them to have Agency.

If someone doesn’t give them information, they need to react to that. If they’re frustrated with their position in life but feel hemmed in, then react badly – show us the limits, show us the frustrations, show us the problems. If they’re fighting those bounds, then fight them. – go and GET the information! Talk to people! Go  OUTSIDE with whoever the damn man was to meet whoever the damn Ambassadors are. Elbow their way into the world they want to be in!

There are more than enough Queens, Princesses, Dowager Duchesses and women of power in history to show multiple different ways of grasping power. You’re telling me that  Heirs of a Kingdom are being brought up to be completely politically ignorant? Or are they hoping their husbands and advisors are going to be a good pick? And do they have no other resources around them?

And the “oh I wonder who I’m going to marry” – ok, I know it’s a trope in romances, but seriously? Is that IT for life? “All of my sisters are married off, so I wonder who I’m going to get?” I know some people are fixated on their love lives, but to have it shoved in when the rest of the narrative was  trying (and failing) to prove that “oh no, we’re not just wilting flowers”… BAH.

I’m still struggling to put my finger on what annoyed me so much, because it’s not a big annoy – it’s just a nagging little thing that built up even after I’d put the book down. It was just a… “No. This isn’t what it should be” feeling. But I can’t pin down why I’m quite so miffed, and what would have made it better.

But, my bottom line:

The princess shouldn’t have to go off on an adventure to prove that she’s a Strong Independent Heroine, but she damn well shouldn’t be passively moping around waiting for her love life to start, either.

Probably more thoughts on this as I keep pondering!

A Thought About Voice – The Start

I had a piece of writing recently that I was editing, and it started with;

“Finally,” the young woman said-

What voice do you read that spoken word in? What tone?

Is it “FINALLY we have gotten round to THIS THING!” or “So, um, finally I get to say something?” or “Fiiiiiiinally in my very long list of shit…” or something else entirely?

It turned out, half a sentence later, to be a tremulous tone.

And so I did what editors do, and I crossed it out.

It’s too uncertain an opening. It’s a single word with too many different tones and meanings and phrases, and it brought in too much of an about-face in the reader if they read it the wrong way (“well FINALLY we’ve got to this point! HUMPH!”) and then suddenly had to switch to tremulous.

One of my core principles is that the reader shouldn’t have to re-read unless it’s a deliberate choice. If you’re pulling an abrupt switch or a big reveal, then a re-read is great! (One of my favourite parts of Skin Games by Jim Butcher comes after the reveal three-quarters of the way through, and you end up gleefully skipping back through entire conversations to get a hidden meaning.) But if you’re using dialogue and you’ve got a long conversation, I shouldn’t have to track back four lines to check who is saying what. I don’t want to have to return to the start of a paragraph to check when they actually moved location/opened the window/did the action. And I shouldn’t have to realise halfway through a sentence that my tone is completely (and I mean completely) wrong.

As an addendum to that; slightly wrong, I think, goes with the territory. No reader will read the characters in the same way that the writer hears them, and that’s fine. But you should be able to at least convey the general tone of the conversation: and that’s why “Finally” got a red line through it. There were other ways of conveying the hesitation and tremulous tone; in fact, all I actually ended up doing was suggesting the second half of the sentence went first, which conveyed the tone far better.

That said… you know this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, right? Maybe just a general suggestion to have a read of your openings, and check if there might be another way they could be read.

Stages of Happiness

I know there are seven stages of grief, but are there equivalent stages of happiness?

Fog on the Thames, september 2018When I first moved to Oxford, it felt like golden bubbles rising in my chest; a happiness that swallowed everything when it exploded, and I could always feel it simmering.

Then an Autumn; partly being on some medication that made everything dark, but partly also everything settling – the knowledge that yes, I was here, and I hadn’t screwed it up immediately – so everything could grow, and settle; but I was also aware of how shallow my roots were, and how small my branches. I was growing, but not yet rooted.

And now?

I feel grey. Disassociated. Not caring, unable to process; I’m putting down roots, seeing just how far they are spreading, but the earth over them feels so shallow. It’s all going to be taken away again, and I’m just waiting for that to happen. Waiting for the hand to lift me out and tell me that I have to start again somewhere else; waiting for the earth around me to scorch. Waiting for another start and another set of memories to live with.

I feel resigned to loss, although I’m not sure anyone ever gets totally used to it; so many things have moved or changed or gone in the last few years that I think it’s all caught up, and I don’t have any expectation of longevity.

But then I don’t think anyone really can, either; everything always changes. So it also seems normal.


I hope there is a next stage of happiness – acceptance? The blending of sheer joy with the cut that says everything does end, and move on, and change. The sweet scent and bitter taste of a memory, because it will only happen once. The knowledge that this is only a life lived once, and we can only live the best one we can.